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Ex-NI Secretary suggests migrants can't use a phone

By Richard Wheeler

Published 04/10/2016

Owen Paterson
Owen Paterson

Former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Owen Paterson has appeared to suggest Romanian and Bulgarian fruit pickers do not know how to use mobile phones.

Mr Paterson said those who were able to pick strawberries without squashing them were carrying out skilled work, adding it was work British citizens will not do. He then referenced mobile phone use as he praised the migrants allowed to work on British farms for a certain period of time each year under a scheme closed by Theresa May.

Mr Paterson, who was also Environment Secretary for almost two years, told a Conservative Party conference fringe event: "The most angry people I met in my time at Defra, by far, were the fruit and vegetable growers who were being deprived of a scheme called the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme by the existing Prime Minister when she was Home Secretary."

He said the scheme also allowed up to 21,250 Romanians and Bulgarians to receive accommodation, catering and medical facilities during the growing season before they returned home. Mr Paterson added: "And this is a skilled job, you know, you've got to get up early in the morning and pick strawberries for Tiptree.

"You can't squash them, I'm not joking, it's a skilled job - they may not... know how to use a mobile phone but picking strawberries very early in the morning is a skilled job, and brutally, our locals won't do it.

"I had exactly the same stories from apple growers in Hereford and in my own constituency, I've got a big abattoir (where) at least 60% of the people there are from eastern Europe, mainly Portugal.

The North Shropshire MP later said he wanted an immigration system that allows skilled people to work in the UK in jobs and industries where there are not sufficient numbers.

He said: "We also cannot go on as we are with unlimited immigration."

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